Technology gets a bad rap, but it’s not all about feeding our social media addiction and new ways to Photoshop selfies. In fact, the rise of fem-tech (women’s health tech) is great news, as it makes being in the know about our bodies easier than ever. And it can help women feel more empowered about their health.
Whether it’s predicting when you might get a headache, keeping tabs on your hormones or diagnosing the workouts you’re genetically programmed to benefit from (so claims DNAFit: just send a mouth swab to its lab), we can’t get enough of this insider intel.
Women are 75% more likely than men to use digital tools for health, so it’s no wonder fem-tech is a growing market, predicted to be worth over £38 billion globally by 2025! With this in mind, here’s some top tech that could change your life at the tap of an app.
Sometimes, it’s hard enough to keep track of your work schedule, let alone your menstrual cycle, especially if it’s being a bit unpredictable. ‘It can be disrupted by factors such as hormonal contraception, stress and excessive weight gain,’ says consultant gynaecologist Anne Henderson.
The tech-spertise Be one step ahead of your flow with the period tracker in a FitBit app. Our fave is the FitBit Charge 3 in Rose Gold/Blue Grey, £129.99/12,999 points. You can log your period length to look for patterns in your cycle over time. It also allows you to record your moods and physical feelings. Plus, it will send a reminder to your smartphone two days before your predicted start date and on the day. So, if you’re feeling moody for no reason, check your tracker: you may be due on!
It can be helpful to know the best time to try (aka, when you’re ovulating, which is when an egg is released from your ovaries). Given that recent research found almost one woman in three incorrectly believes she can get pregnant at any time in her cycle, we clearly need some help! ‘Ovulation usually occurs about 10-16 days before your period starts,’ says Anne. ‘You’re most fertile a day or two either side, but as sperm can live inside a woman’s body for up to seven days, you can get pregnant if you have sex any time during the week before.’ Easy if your period is as predictable as your monthly credit card bill; not so, if it’s on time as infrequently as your train to work.
The tech-spertise Enter ovulation tracking via your smartphone. The ClearBlue Connected Ovulation Test System, £59.99/5,999 points (includes 25 test sticks), tracks two key fertility hormones (unlike some similar products) with the ClearBlue Connected app (works with iOS and Android). Just pee on the test stick for three seconds (the app estimates which days to start and stop testing, based on the cycle info you enter), and the results are then synced with your mobile. The app displays your personal fertility info, so tracking is easy. Studies show it can double your chances of getting pregnant – we like those odds!
If you tend to get a lot of migraines, you probably have a gut feeling that you suffer more in summer. And you’d be right. ‘Higher temperatures and low atmospheric pressure have been found to increase the risk of a migraine in some people,’ says Boots pharmacist Scot Taylor. ‘Plus, many sufferers report that bright sunlight and glare are triggers, while changes in humidity are also thought to play a part.’ Migraines affect three times as many women as men, as they’re often thought to be caused by hormonal changes.
The tech-spertise Although we don’t have the power to control the weather, we’ve found the next best thing – the new app WeatherX (free on iOS and Android) predicts atmospheric changes, which are associated with headaches. WeatherX advises users to wear special pressure-filtering earplugs when barometric changes are on the horizon, to help prevent headaches.
Lower back pain is the most common type of chronic pain and, yet again, it affects more women than men. (Blame hormones, the impact of pregnancy and the difference in the male/female pelvic region.) ‘The complex structure of your lower back means that even small amounts of strain can cause a lot of pain and discomfort,’ says Scot. ‘Most cases can be resolved by staying active, but if the pain doesn’t start to improve after six weeks, you should make an appointment to see your GP.’
The tech-spertise The new app Kaia (free for seven days on iOS and Android) is here to help change things for the better. Launched in the UK last year, it’s been shown to reduce lower back pain by 40%, according to Kaia, through tailored physiotherapy (motion-tracking technology ensures exercises are performed correctly) and psychological strategies, such as mindfulness and muscle relaxation. It’s been so successful in Germany, it’s now being offered free of charge to 20 million patients there.
Shockingly, pelvic floor problems, including urinary incontinence, affect one in three women, and up to 70% of new mums. ‘The fastest route to regaining your former strength is usually performing pelvic floor exercises – squeezing the muscles you use to stop your urine mid-flow,’ says Anne.
The tech-spertise You might be squeezing away, but if you’re not doing it correctly – or for long enough – you won’t be feeling the full benefit. This is where tech can give an, erm, helping hand. The Elvie Trainer, £169/16,900 points, sits inside your vagina, and as you squeeze and contract your muscles, a ‘gem’ on the associated app lifts in response to the strength of the contraction, guiding your exercises and promising results in less than four weeks.
Labout-saving Virtual reality ‘analgesia’ may be coming to a labour ward near you. A recent study found that being immersed in a virtual reality experience reduced pain and anxiety during childbirth. Experts aren’t quite sure why yet, but one of the theories is that it triggers a reaction in the brain that somehow changes our perception of the pain.
Cool down In the US, hot flushes are being tackled with Embr Wave, a bracelet that cools your wrist, helping to bring down your body temperature in minutes. Fingers crossed, we won’t have to wait too long before it reaches this side of the Atlantic.
Face value Hopefully, there will soon be a quicker way to spot genetic diseases and improve the outcome for patients. Research has found that photo-imaging could spot subtle signs of certain genetic syndromes in people’s faces – and it outperformed doctors’ diagnoses, with 91% accuracy.